Michael Atwell Wins Bigley 128 after Ty Majeski DQ
Nov 27, 2022
A second consecutive victory in the Thanksgiving Classic for Josh Berry was monumental for a variety of reasons.
For one, it was his 100th victory at JR Motorsports split (95) in Late Model Stocks combined with his (5) in the NASCAR Xfinity Series over the past two years. And the reward for doing so was $50,000.
It also came in the iconic Bass Pro Shops No. 3 with four-time NASCAR Weekly Series champion Lee Pulliam on the spotter stand.
In short, it was just a cool victory for so many reasons for Berry and the JR Motorsports Late Model program.
"We ran this race last year as kind of like a send-off race, and because I hadn't run it a whole lot," Berry said. "It's tough on all your people, racing on Thanksgiving. It's a big commitment. But when Mike (Diaz) and Solid Rock Carriers came up with that kind of purse, we knew we had to be here."
Like last year, Diaz came up with a challenging race format that created a variety of strategy plays and a lot of shuffling. That’s to say Berry didn’t dominate and it wasn’t straightforward. It was never going to be that kind of race for anyone.
There was a lot for Berry to process throughout the race.
"We talked a lot today about what our plan would be, and what we thought would happen, and what we thought we needed to do," Berry said.
Teams had four tires available in the pits but would rotate tires first, or could choose to rotate and add a tire, all resulting in the running order constantly changing from run to run.
It was like the Russian Roulette of Late Model racing.
"I thought it was fun," Berry said. "I really enjoyed the control caution thing, the strategy part of it. I think it was a lot like the big Super Late Model races and with the tire falloff the way it was, I really thought it kept the racing interesting."
Berry might not even have had the best car -- the case arguably belonging to his teammate in the No. 8 in Carson Kvapil. Berry had taken tires methodically throughout the race, most of the field took their tires on Lap 137 and Kvapil opted for all of hison Lap 162.
Kvapil ultimately finished sixth with a car that was running just outside of the top-five even as others had already taken their tires.
"We were just trying to save, save, save and wait as late as we could to take lefts and rights," Kvapil said. "Everyone pitted at like 140 or something and that’s when we should have pitted and been on their strategy. We decided to stay out that next run to get another 50 laps on them but the next caution was like 15 laps and we couldn’t chance it staying green to the end, so we came in, lost all of our track position, just to get 15 lap fresher tires."
It wasn’t enough and there were more cautions, which is what Kvapil would have needed to make saving tires work, but no one knew and that was the point of the format.
Berry actually nearly made the same mistake.
"We were close to not stopping when we did," Berry said. "Just tried to save them as long as we did. But I thought, if I stayed out, everyone would just come in behind us and then we would be mired in the pack."
Ultimately, the race came down to a head-to-head duel between Berry and two-time CARS Tour champion Jared Fryar.
What more did Fryar need to go his way in the end?
"I just needed a better handle on the car," said Fryar, the Hampton Heat winner from this year. "We just got really tight on new tires. I couldn’t get in the corner the way I needed to. I had great drive off but couldn’t get in the corner the way I needed to be as good or beat Josh."
Meanwhile, Kaden Honeycutt in the R&S Race Cars No. 10 finished third but was running faster lap times than even Berry in clean air but just took too long getting around Deac McCaskill for third.
"I didn’t want to move Deac, and I was a little too patient with him, a lot of respect for him," Honeycutt said.
Last year’s Thanksgiving Classic was a duel between Berry and Brenden Queen and it looked like a repeat for much of the race this year. Queen was inside the top-five for much of the day but his final pit stop resulted in a decision they would want to take back.
"We shouldn’t have touched it," Queen said. "We made an adjustment that we thought would get us a little bit better. I felt like to win the race, we needed to take a swing and we went the wrong way, because we had a car that could have contended. We got way too tight, started chattering the right front tire and when that happened, I couldn’t turn."
He went on to finish 16th.
As for Pulliam spotting for Berry, that only happened because his usual Late Model spotter Robert Arch won the Limited Late Model race earlier in the afternoon but suffered from exhaust fumes and just wasn’t healthy enough to immediately stand on the stand.
Berry had been leaning on Pulliam for help throughout the day and asked him to spot and the combined five NASCAR Weekly Series champions took it to Victory Lane.
"We were a little short on help this weekend," Berry said. "My father in law has helped Lee out a lot. I asked if he could give me a hand during pit stops and stuff and he said we were cool."
And then there was the element of driving the 1996 Winston Bass Pro Shops paint scheme raced by Dale Earnhardt Sr. -- something Berry never thought would happen.
"We’ve been racing together a long time," Berry said. "We’ve done throwback races with LW (Miller) and the Mom N Pops paint scheme but I never thought I would race the 3. You know, that was Dale’s number and that was a personal thing with the family and I just didn’t know that I would even want to.
"But with Johnny Morris and Bass Pro jumping on board this year, and with out Xfinity team a little next year too, and being asked to drive it, how could I not? And to take it to Victory Lane, it was really special."
2022 Thanksgiving Classic
Southern National Motorsports Park
November 27 2022
Photo: Philip Goodman, JR Motorsports